Monday, March 11, 2013


When I was a young lad, my father used to read to me from the series The Happy Hollisters, a book that was stiflingly representative of the idyllic 1950s domestic lifestyle: a father who ran a general store, a homemaker wife, and five healthy, adventurous children running around the neighborhood solving mysteries and helping the local down-and-outs. The stories have the literary appeal of Nancy Drew along with the comforting postwar sweetness of later Norman Rockwells. They were excellent, and reading them with my pop was among the best times I spent with him.

Many of the stories, I recall, seemed almost desperate to instill a sense of morality and manners in young men and women: the boys are always taking their hats off in the presence of women, for instance, and the children always ask to be excused, and always greet adults with respect, etc. I suppose these things were indicative of the times, although they smack vaguely of instruction manuals. No matter; I'll probably teach my kids to behave in much the same way (while, of course, teaching them to be instinctively mistrustful of centralized authority, ha-ha).

While thumbing through one of the books (The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip) at my mom's house, though, I came across an interesting passage that is both consistent with the book's habit of teaching lessons, while still appearing strikingly out-of-place by today's sensibilities. The scene involves the Hollisters encountering Joey Brill, the local troublemaker, as he throws rocks at a younger boy:

When Joey saw the Hollister children, he was so surprised that he stopped short. This gave Pete a chance to act quickly. Before Joey could throw another stone, Pete flung himself at the boy. Together they rolled over and over on the ground.

Although Joey was a larger boy, Pete was quicker. He got to his feet immediately, and when Joey rose, Pete punched him on the nose.

"Ow!" Joey cried. "That's no fair. Three against one. I'll get even with you!" He ran off down the path toward the stone bridge.

 So: a bully was attempting to harm a weaker party, and a young man stepped in and dealt with it by beating the bully up; thus ends the conflict. Can you imagine a children's book detailing such an incident today, much less essentially condoning it?

Now, some caveats: I will not instill in my children a proclivity for violence; I abhor violence, and believe it to be the last and lowest form of interaction. But it is sometimes necessary---sometimes very necessary---and there's no reason to think that the maxim doesn't apply to children as well. Hence young Pete's judicious use of the same.

It's not a reutn to the olden days that I desire, of course; mid-20th century America is a stereotyped time of tranquil moral superiority, when of course it was in many respects a time of bigotry and intolerance and cruelty. Yet this simple children's book seems to speak to a certain type of wisdom that prevailed in days past. Ignore the tell-a-trusted-adult business, don't pull the whole curl-up-in-a-fetal-ball nonsense---when all else fails, punch the bully in the nose. It is regrettable, but it does have its place.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! The simplicity and moral surety of Pete's response, and the apparently good outcome. (does Joey go on later in the book to do other bad things? Does he need another whomping? Does he take revenge on the Hollisters?). A keen analysis. We can learn from the past, but we solve things with the power of everything we know NOW.